Saturday, February 09, 2008

"Non" to Blair

Nicolas Sarkozy's attempts to push Tony Blair as president of the new European Union is a stark contrast to previous French treatment of British prime ministers - and not much to the credit of either Blair or Sarkozy.

Two score years ago and five, Charles de Gaulle gave the doigt to Britain's prime minister Harold McMillan and vetoed his application to join the European community. Four years later, the general did it again for Harold Wilson who had succeeded to No 10 Downing Street by then.

Apart from payback time for all the humiliations that he saw heaped on France and himself by Britain - including the British failure to be occupied by the Nazis - De Gaulle's argument was that Britain would be a Trojan horse for American influence in Europe. To some extent he was right, even if his real motive was to keep out a rival for influence in Charlemagne's former realms. But it has taken Tony Blair to make him absolutely right about the Trojan horse.

On one level, it is, like Blair's Middle East position, yet another non-job designed to give a redundant statesman a sense of self-importance. But from another point of view, it is an insult to Europe. Symbolically, Blair for European president would be like running the Reverend Ian Paisley for Pope. Elected into office as a Europhile, Blair soon followed the Murdoch line of reflexive contempt for Brussels, while acting as Washington's agent in the continent, fulfilling all of De Gaulle's worst fears.

While Europe is clearly a success story in economic terms, despite the anally retentive influence of German central bankers, it punches way below its weight in global politics, and one reason for that has been Blair's determination to toe whatever line came from Washington. With the League of Nations style of consensus decision-making in Europe, foreign policy decisions are reduced to the lowest common denominator, which for much of the last decade has been Blair, with occasional help from Berlusconi and the Poles.

It is also interesting to contrast Blair's absolute subservience to Washington with his Labour predecessor's role. Wilson managed to keep Britain out of the Vietnam despite Lyndon Baines Johnson's enormous pressure and his speech, in response to de Gaulle's veto, is worth looking at to see an alternative to both pandering and crude anti-Americanism. He said:

"The concept of a powerful Atlantic partnership can be realised only when Europe is able to put forth her full economic strength so that we can, in industrial affairs, speak from strength to our Atlantic partners."

While pledging Britain's loyalty to the Atlantic Alliance, he explained:

"Loyalty never means subservience. Still less must it mean an industrial helotry under which we in Europe produce only the conventional apparatus of a modern economy, while becoming increasingly dependent on American business for the sophisticated apparatus which will call the industrial tune in the 70s and 80s."

Ironically, as American industrial hegemony dissolved, and Europe's collective financial strength began to outstrip America's, Blair reduced Britain to absolute diplomatic helotry to the worst and most reactionary White House ever while the dollar declined by levels far worse than the beleaguered pound sterling ever did.

For him to hobble Europe as its president just as it is becoming economically capable of holding its own against the US would have truth emulating the fiction of Robert Harris, whose novel Ghost postulates an uncannily Blair-like British prime minister who had been recruited by the CIA to ensure precisely the kind of helotry we have seen. In retrospect, Harris's scenario looks a lot less paranoid than all those spook inspired stories about Wilson being a KGB plant. The EU should say "non" to Sarkozy's choice.


Grahnlaw said...

An interesting piece of writing, but wouldn't it be better to discuss the fundamentals before the personalities, especially since no one has declared the race opened?

Deadline Pundit said...

The race may not be open but Blair is already running! And it allows some background on Anglo-EU relations that are still relevant.